Jeune et Jolie or ‘Young and Beautiful’ is Francois Ozon’s latest feature, focusing on the themes of love, sex, relationships, family and sex again – there’s a lot of sex. Shot on location on Parisian streets and hotels, the film uses these locations to hide secrets belonging to our main character, so well in fact that the motivation of Isabelle (Marine Vacht, model turned actress) remains a mystery. This makes the film appear unrealistic and almost become a cheap erotic thriller, but Ozon directs Marine in a way that captures her frustrations and naivety, so we at least know that she knows what she is doing, even if we don’t.
Isabelle is a young girl who has just turned 17 whilst on holiday in the summer and the film follows her for a year through each season with music by Françoise Hardy. On holiday she meets Felix, a young German boy and she decides he’s the one to help her lose her virginity, but when she returns to Paris she ignores him completely. Isabelle is disappointed with sex and continues to find out more by pursuing a life as a prostitute. Ozon nods to Belle du Jour and follows Isabelle from client to client. Her mother and step-father are oblivious to her excursions. It’s hard to pin down what is wrong in Isabelle’s life to push her towards prostitution, as we follow her middle-class parents, friends and her brother who all seem well adjusted; this is both frustrating and a relief as we get to interpret what her motivations are.
The film is filled with irony and drama; the mother Sylvie (Géraldine Pailhas) talks about her life as a young woman and says she had fun at Isabelle’s age, and accepts she will do the same but never imagines her taking on prostitution. When she does find out, the shock is palpable through the screen. All cast members do a superb job as normal people around a strange girl, which only adds to our confusion especially when some of their secrets start to come out to an already disillusioned Isabelle. Disillusionment is a common theme throughout the year we follow Isabelle, from family life to losing her virginity.
This is an odd coming-of-age story, disregarding the pursuit of love in favour of sex. Marine Vacht is wonderful as she continues on a sexual adventure that is her secret, even to the audience. In less experienced hands this film may have failed, but Ozon perfectly maintains our interest and disbelief. It is no wonder it was critically acclaimed at the 2013 Cannes film festival, promising a career for Marine into more films.
Jeune Et Jolie premiered at the BFI London Film Festival and is out in UK cinemas on Friday November 29th.